- United Kingdom Prime Minister Theresa May last week appointed Tracey Crouch, the current minister for sport and civil society, as the government's new ministerial lead for loneliness.
- Crouch will lead a cross-government group to enforce action on loneliness. "I am sure that with the support of volunteers, campaigners, businesses and my fellow MPs from all sides of the House, we can make significant progress in defeating loneliness," she said in a statement.
- The move is the first in a series of recommendations from the Jo Cox Commission on Loneliness. In addition to appointing Crouch, the U.K. has already begun to develop a cross-government strategy on loneliness in England; to develop an evidence-base around the impact of initiatives that tackle loneliness; to establish indicators of loneliness; and to develop a fund to advance existing efforts.
The Jo Cox Commission on Loneliness, founded by the late Member of Parliament Jo Cox, has spent the last year working with more than a dozen agencies and organizations to develop strategies to combat loneliness. According to the group's call to action, more than 9 million adults in the U.K. feel lonely; 52% of parents have struggled with loneliness; 85% of young disabled adults feel lonely; and 3.6 million people aged 65 or older find television to be their main form of company.
"For far too many people, loneliness is the sad reality of modern life," May said in a statement. That sad reality can even be fatal, according to Age UK Barnet Chief Officer Mark Robinson who suggests loneliness can be worse for health than smoking 15 cigarettes a day.
The issue is certainly widespread in other areas of the world, as well. A 2010 study conducted by U.S.-based AARP found that "loneliness was a significant predictor of poor health," and noted that drug use is positively associated with loneliness. The study also cited communication technology and the internet as contributors to loneliness.
The isolation effect of technology can also be seen with the rise of telecommuting. A recent report on the state of telecommuting found that telework has increased 115% in the last 10 years, and as of 2017, 3.9 million U.S. employees work from home at least half of the time. While the telecommuting trend is touted as a driver of work flexibility, it also can be seen as disruptive to social growth on a personal level, and contribute to the growing issue of loneliness.
It would be difficult to effectively reverse the current trends of telecommuting or communication technology; Crouch faces a challenging task of developing new ways to stimulate social support, mental health awareness and community collaboration. Though if the U.K. finds success in these strategies, and if the chronic loneliness "epidemic" continues to threaten public health, local governments around the globe will likely follow Crouch's footsteps.